Oregon State University researchers assessed the effects of alcohol withdrawal on bone turnover in postmenopausal women who drank one or two drinks a day several times per week. The research shows that there was a significant increase in blood markers of bone turnover in women after they stopped drinking for just two weeks.
The body constantly remodels the bones, removing old bone replacing it with the new. There is an imbalance for those with osteoporosis as more bone is lost than replaced, creating weak and porous bones. Women make up 80 percent of those affected by osteoporosis, and postmenopausal women face a greater risk because of decreased estrogen levels; estrogen keeps bone remodeling in balance.
"With menopause, women lose bone due to elevated bone turnovers. So bone resorption goes up, but bone resorption is higher than formation, and the turnover is unbalanced. As a result, women lose bone," Urszula Iwaniec, associate professor in the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at OSU and one of the study's authors, told Ivanhoe.
In the past, study results pointed towards moderate drinkers having a higher bone density than non-drinkers or heavy drinkers, but have provided no explanation for why the densities were different. The researchers noted that alcohol appears to behave similarly to estrogen by reducing bone turnover.
For this study, researchers looked at 40 early postmenopausal women who regularly had one or two drinks a day, were not on any hormone replacement therapies, and had no history of osteoporosis-related fractures.
The researchers saw increased bone turnover, which is a risk factor for osteoporotic fractures, during the two week period after the participants stopped drinking. They also found that less than a day after they began drinking again, their bone turnover rates returned to previous levels.
"We were able to see that alcohol has a significant effect on bone turnover, and that moderate alcohol consumption may be beneficial for reducing bone turnover after menopause," said Iwaniec.
The study suggests a cellular mechanism for increased bone density often observed in postmenopausal women who are moderate drinkers. While the mechanism remains unknown, researchers are in the process of conducting future studies to discover how it works.
"Most of the research that has been done on alcohol and bone has been alcohol abuse and there has been very little research done on the moderate effects of alcohol and bone, so we're trying to get funding to look at this. A lot of Americans drink, and most Americans who drink are not alcohol abusers; we're looking at the other side of the alcohol spectrum."
Source: Ivanhoe Broadcast News Interview with Urszula Iwaniec, associate professor of the College of Public Health and Human Sciences at Oregon State Univeristy on July 10th, 2012.